That’s the question being put to the public by researchers with the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT), the University of Nevada, Reno and University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and a team of consultants.
The group held a public meeting Thursday at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center to gather input on a fuel tax replacement fee study, and those who were unable to attend can submit their thoughts via email to email@example.com.
NDOT is currently in phase two of a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) fee study to explore and evaluate a source of revenue that would replace the fuel taxes that currently pay to operate, maintain and improve roads and highways in Nevada.
“A VMT fee is not in addition to existing fuel taxes,” the VMT study website, www.vmtfeenv.com, states. “It could simply replace existing fuel taxes, meaning that drivers would not be paying the tax when they purchase the fuel at the pump, (but) instead they would be charged a fee based on the miles traveled.”
As vehicles become more fuel efficient and a larger number of people are opting to purchase vehicles that run on alternative fuels, NDOT has decided to reevaluate revenue sources for road maintenance.
“By 2016, we estimate a loss of about $39 million per year,” in funding for road construction and maintenance, NDOT consultant Jason Gray said. “We are starting to look at the consequences, and we are not alone. Seventeen other states are currently assessing a VMT system.”
Nevada has a flat gas tax rate that has not increased in 20 years, and people driving electric, hybrid or alternative-fuel vehicles are not paying the same fuel taxes as everyone else, Gray said.
“The fuel tax is an inefficient way to plan for maintaining the roads in the future,” he added.
At present, researchers are evaluating the mechanics of a system that would charge drivers for miles driven. The study involves 20 participants in Las Vegas who have agreed to fill their vehicles at a specific gas station where a sensor reads the number of miles driven.
“Basically we have taken the information we gathered during phase one of the study and applied it to this field test,” said Scott Rawlins, deputy director of NDOT.
Phase one, which was completed in 2010, involved research, extensive public education and outreach. It included a spectrum of payment options and evaluated the use of tracking devices on vehicles. The idea of using tracking devices on vehicles was eliminated during phase one as a result of public input.
“The biggest thing with the tracking devices was the privacy issue,” Rawlins said. “There is no more tracking, just pure mileage.”
The phase two study is focused on finding the most efficient way to read the mileage on a car.
“Right now we are focusing this phase on the mechanisms of a way to be able to collect a fee based on mileage data,” said Derek Morse, a professional engineer with CH2M HILL who is part of NDOT’s research team.
The current study does not involve any policy issues such as:
• Fee variations based on vehicle weight, type or classification.
• Fee variations based on local jurisdictional boundaries.
• Fee variations based on travel on commute corridors or during peak travel times.
• Technology that tracks or stores vehicle location or any other information beyond miles traveled.
“Those are important policy issues, but we will get through this phase and then look at those issues,” Morse said.
One concept being kicked around is the idea of an odometer reading upon yearly vehicle registration. In this case, mileage taxes would be collected once per year.
“All states would have to have a similar policy in order for that to work,” a Reno resident who declined to give her name said during Thursday’s meeting. “Personally, I’d just as soon they went ahead and raised the gas tax.”
Another Reno resident who declined to give his name said a viable option would be a surcharge for cars that run on alternative fuels coupled with an increase in the fuel tax rate.
“They should pay the equivalent of a gas guzzler,” he said.
NDOT spokesman Scott Magruder said public comment is vital as the study continues and researchers begin to formulate solutions.
Comments can be submitted online through Aug. 12, he said.